Meet your new Chair, Jo Revill

Earlier this month, Jo Revill was appointed Chair of the ALCS Board for a three-year term. Read on to find out more about her and why she took on the role.

What interested you about the role of Chair at ALCS?

I was a journalist for many years, working at the Evening Standard and the Observer, and went on to author two books, so the written word has always been at the heart of what I do. The role of Chair at ALCS really interested me because I see writing as core to society. Writers have the ability to hold up a mirror, and capture what we feel and what we think, and that is vital for everybody.

ALCS has been incredibly successful at achieving what it was set up to do. The fact that it has well over 100,000 members is testament to that. It is an immense honour to chair the society, and I look forward sustaining the excellent work it has done and help it grow for the future.


What do you think is the biggest issue currently facing writers?

The economic uncertainty and cost of living crisis is a huge issue for writers. We have authors across many different media, from poetry, to educational writing, to screenwriting. Each of these groups face different challenges in their writing, but what is important for all of them is that we collect the money that is due to them.

ALCS is there to support all our members to receive what they are owed and help them weather the current economic difficulties, but we also work with many different partners to manage the challenges posed by new technologies. We are part of a creative ecosystem that involves finding common ground with publishers, broadcasters and others so that the current and future generations of writers can thrive. None of this is easy, but ALCS is really well placed to build on its successes and advocate for all forms of writing and authorship. It’s vital that writers are able to fully express themselves in environments that support that creativity.


You’ve published two books, on allergies and bird flu. Can you tell us a bit about them and what inspired you to write on those subjects?

When I worked as the Health Correspondent for the Observer in 2002, I got really, really interested in pandemics, to the point of being slightly obsessed! I wanted to write about bird flu, because at the time, it seemed as if that would be the next major pandemic. I realised that most people had very little knowledge of what to do in a pandemic situation. So, I worked with many scientists and doctors to write that book and was pleased with the result. Years later, as a government advisor, the knowledge I gained from this book was very useful when contending with the swine flu outbreak.

With the allergies book, I was fascinated by the rise of allergies and couldn’t fully understand what was behind it. Writing a book can be a way of getting great insight into particular areas of life, and then sharing that insight with others.


What was your writing process like for those two books?

I was working full-time as a journalist, so I had to find the time to write. I was very fortunate that the Observer gave me a sabbatical to work on the pandemic book, and I took annual leave for the allergies book. I also had young children, which made it difficult finding time to sit and write. I wrote really early in the mornings while the kids were still asleep, which I think is a very common experience for a lot of authors. But I think if you really believe in a book, then that’s what you do.


What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

It can be really daunting for aspiring writers, not knowing where to start and feeling like you’ll never get a publisher or agent. The most important thing is just to start writing. Write in the style that feels right to you, don’t try to be something that you’re not. Many writers will tell you the most important thing is to just consistently write something, every day. Even if, at the end of the day, you feel it’s not good, you’ve got something you can build on.

It can also be very useful to find a peer group that you can share your ideas with. Have the courage to share your work with others and be open to receiving advice and feedback. This can be difficult, because your writing is so innately personal to you, especially when you receive criticism. But you must be open to that, because you’re going to receive this at some point if your work is to reach a wider audience.


What are you currently reading?

I’ve got several books on the go at the moment! It’s a bit of an eclectic mix. I’ve just finished Cormac McCarthy’s new book The Passenger, which is a fascinating exploration of guilt and sin. I’m also reading a book called Critical Thinking, which was written by ALCS Board member, Tom Chatfield. It’s great because it makes me question a lot of my assumptions and think about the way that I and others reason. I’m also halfway through Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which is just wonderful. The psychology of the characters is surprisingly modern. Finally, I’m reading a book by a poet called David Baker, who I recently met in America. He’s part of a new wave of environmental poetry and his book is called Whale Fall.


What else do you like to do outside of work?

I suppose this is where I should give you a whole list of hobbies! I have an allotment, which is more like an anti-allotment at the moment, as I’ve still got a lot to learn about managing it. I also really enjoy going round the different museums in London. But reading is definitely my main passion in life.